'Calamity' in calamity funds

By Caroline J. Howard, ANC

Posted at Jul 15 2010 12:40 PM | Updated as of Jul 25 2010 01:03 AM

OCD: P2B annual calamity fund not enough

MANILA, Philippines - Budget Secretary Butch Abad on Wednesday said he will audit the P2-billion calamity fund after discovering that 70% of the fund has been spent in the first 6 months of 2010 despite the absence of any major disaster in the past months.

"Wala na tayong buffer fund," Abad said. "Wala kasi silang foresight. Why allot only P2 billion when they knew marami pang pagkakagastusan at bagyong darating?"

Faced with a shortage of calamity funds, Abad said the government can source calamity funds from lawmakers' pork barrel and the budget allocated for the president's trips abroad.

Speaking on ANC's "The Rundown" on Wednesday, director Ronald Flores of the Office of Civil Defense said his office is open to an audit of the calamity funds.

"Congress allots P2 billion annually to the national calamity fund. This cannot be used for other purposes because the fund can only be released upon the recommendation of the National Disaster Coordinating Council," he said.

Calamity fund insufficient

Flores, however, said the annual P2 billion allotment for the National Calamity Fund is not enough. He said the country is lashed by 20 to 22 typhoons every year, of which 5 to 6 are devastating.

"Direct damages alone account for about P8-10 billion every year," he said.

He added nearly half of the calamity funds serves as a quick response fund of the national government, while the other half is allocated for various projects. He said a portion of the annual fund is spent on rebuilding infrastructure that was damaged in previous storms.

"The national calamity fund can be used for disasters that happened even 2 years ago. Some might be questioning why some of the funds may have been used up even as no disaster has happened yet in the country. That is because of the P2 billion calamity fund, P800 million will go to the quick response fund of the national government, of which about P200 million has already been released to the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Department of Social Welfare and Development," he said.

He said another P500 million has been used by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to help internally-displaced people of Mindanao, P357M was used by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to address repairs of damaged infrastructure last year, and P50 million was used by the National Food Authority for rice assistance to affected residents.

More efficient use of resources

During Wednesday's emergency meeting at the National Disaster Coordinating Council, President Benigno Aquino III underscored the need to make more efficient use of available resources.

"That was the President's concern, for PAGASA to give more accurate predictions in the future so we don't waste important resources," Flores said.

He said money spent on typhoon preparations actually goes to waste if the predictions are not correct.

He added, however, that PAGASA is making do with their available equipment, which leads to less-than-accurate predictions.

"The technology PAGASA has right now may not be that sophisticated to Western countries but while typhoon tracks are being predicted by equipment, they can change course rapidly. Even the most sophisticated technology can't predict this. As Typhoon Basyang showed, supposedly Metro Manila is typhoon-free this time of year and yet it did hit us," Flores said.

On Tuesday, Typhoon Basyang changed course in a matter of hours and went downward from its earlier track, making landfall in Quezon before hitting Metro Manila, Zambales and Pangasinan.

With at least 11 more typhoons expected to hit the country this year, PAGASA is upgrading its forecasting capability to reduce the cost of weather-related disasters.

It is scheduled to install 12 Doppler radars within the next two years. The radars are designed to provide information on tropical cyclone movement, windspeed and rainfall volume.